Jeremy Miller

Branding: Why Names Make Your Stories Spread

By: Jeremy Miller | September 12, 2019 | 
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brandingNames are your secret weapon—especially when it comes to branding. 

A name has the power to spread an idea and get it stuck in people’s minds.

If you name something, you know it. You make it understandable, shareable, and brandable.

The names you choose—for your products, services, company or even campaigns—define your brand, and excellent branding is what makes your stories spread.

Here’s an example:

There’s a scene in The Simpsons where Mr. Burns loses the nuclear power plant he owns and has to become a “regular guy”.

While he’s standing in a grocery aisle, he stares, confused, at two different bottles.

On one is the word “ketchup” while the other is labeled “catsup”. 

Looking back and forth, he says, “Ketchup… catsup. Ketchup… catsup. Ketchup… catsup.”

He stops and stutters for a second and mumbles, “I’m in way over my head.”

If only Mr. Burns knew the product names! 😅

Names Are Everywhere

Eve Ensler wrote in The Vagina Monologues,

I have always been obsessed with naming things. If I could name them, I could know them. If I could name them, I could tame them. They could be my friends.

In my new book, Brand New Name, I demonstrate that names are one of the most fundamental building blocks of how we communicate and understand the world around us.

You need a name to start a business, create a product, launch a campaign, or share an idea.

Everything, literally everything, has a name: babies, products, drugs, books, beers, gods, companies, cats, and dogs.

(The best part of this line is it can be expressed in emojis: 👶 🛍 💊 📚 🍺 🙏 🏭 😺and 🐶.)

A name becomes a reference point. It’s like a label on a file folder in your customers’ minds.

For instance, at the grocery store, you don’t worry over your decisions like Mr. Burns.

You find your brand, and you buy it.

If you’re shopping for laundry detergent, you have a brand.

Maybe it’s Tide, or perhaps it’s Gain, but I guarantee you don’t ponder over it for an extended period of time.

You go to the aisle and grab it.

The same thing happens with dozens of decisions every day.

The name, that simple label on the packaging, is integral to each and every one of your purchase decisions. 

You know a brand by its name. It’s how your mind identifies the product, categorizes it, and recalls it.

Names Convey Meaning

Names transcend brands and businesses because they are a core construct of language.

They help you navigate, communicate, and understand the world around you.

For example, astronomers and physicists used to study a strange phenomenon in space known as “totally collapsed gravitational objects.”

Have you ever heard of a totally collapsed gravitational object? Probably not by that name, but you have heard of a black hole.

John Wheeler came up with a better name: black hole.

In two words, Dr. Wheeler described a complex idea.

Black hole was easy to say and easy to remember, and it provided a descriptive metaphor.

Even without understanding the science, you can visually grasp the concept.

Naming is magical because it brings things into existence.

When something receives a name, it crosses over from a nebulous form to something concrete.

It becomes something we can understand, share, and discuss.

This is why I find naming so fascinating.

You and I may be motivated by a desire to market a business or to promote a brand, but names are the basic building blocks for sharing information.

Without names, we couldn’t navigate the world or share our ideas and beliefs.

Names contain our ideas in bite-sized, shareable chunks.

As communication professionals, how you use names can directly affect the effectiveness of your campaigns.

We need names to communicate, which is why names are such powerful branding tools.

The name you choose for your brand will become the label by which people understand it.

It will contain all of the meaning and experiences that make up your business.

So getting it right is essential.

Paint a Picture in Your Customers’ Minds

In communication, not all names are equal. The best names paint a picture in your mind.

For example, the term “black hole” changed an entire field of study.

In two words, black hole paints a visual metaphor of a complex, abstract area of physics.

The most memorable names are often based on concrete words.

These are words or phrases that allow you to create visuals in your mind.

This makes them easier to understand and remember than abstract or puffy words such as “innovative,” “revolutionary,” and “world-class.”

The problem with abstract words is that, though they sound good, they lack a mental reference.

Keep It Clear and Concise for Branding

Try to picture “innovative” in your mind. What do you see?

Consider these three car company slogans based on the word innovation:

  • A tradition of innovation
  • Driving American innovation
  • Innovation that excites

Did each generate a mental image? Probably not.

Do you know which brand each slogan is associated with? No? That’s not a surprise either.

When you lack a mental image, it’s hard to remember an idea.

I’ll give you the answer: Firestone, Ford, and Nissan—in that order.

Abstract words such as “innovation” may seem smart, and they may even feel good to say, but there’s nothing to anchor the word in your mind.

As a result, each slogan is entirely forgettable.

Concrete words, on the other hand, are more memorable because they create a visual image.

For more than 50years, M&M’s have told us their candy “melts in your mouth, not in your hands.”

There’s nothing fluffy about this statement. It contains no abstract words.

It’s clear, concise, and direct.

You may not know what the candy tastes like, but you know they won’t make your hands messy when you eat them.

When customers get it, they’re more likely to engage with your brand, refer it, and buy.

Choosing a brand name is one of the most critical business decisions you will make.

A brilliant name defines your brand, and it can shape the future of your business.

The reason why is because a great name conveys meaning. When you communicate your ideas in a way that people immediately get—it’s fire! 🔥🔥🔥

Branding makes your products and services more findable, referable, memorable, and desirable.

And those are all things we want in our communications.

About Jeremy Miller


Jeremy Miller is a Brand Builder, Keynote Speaker, and president of Sticky Branding — a brand building agency. Jeremy helps companies challenge the giants of their industry and grow Sticky Brands. His upcoming book, Sticky Branding: 12.5 Principles to Stand Out, Attract Customers and Grow an Incredible Brand, will be published in January 2015